ROSTRAROSTRA was the name applied to a stage or platform at Rome, first between the Comitium and Forum, afterwards in the Forum, from which orators addressed the people [CONTIO]. This platform was originally called templum (Liv. 2.56; 3.17; 8.14), because it was consecrated by the augurs (Cic. in Vat. 10, 24) [TEMPLUM]; but it received the name of Rostra at the conclusion of the great Latin war, when C. Maenius adorned it with the beaks (rostra) of the ships taken from the Antiates (Liv. 8.14; Flor. 1.11; Plin. Nat. 34.20). The Greeks also mutilated galleys in this way for the purpose of trophies: this was called by them ἀκρωτηριάζειν. [ACROTERIUM.] From the mention of the volcanal as the speakers' platform in early times (Dionys. A. R. 6.67; 7.17; 11.39), some have inferred that the Rostra was not merely adorned with ships' beaks in the year B.C. 338, but was then first built; the fact, however, that the Twelve Tables were placed on the Rostra (Diod. 12.26) would lead us to conclude that it was an older structure which received this adornment and a new name in the 4th century. The language of Livy will bear either interpretation. The Rostra lay, as has been said, between the Comitium, or place of meeting for the curies, and the Forum, or place of meeting for the whole people, so that the speaker might turn to the one or the other. No doubt the custom of turning towards the Comitium and addressing the curies from that spot originated in an age when that assembly was of importance alike in legislation and in judicial appeals, and it became a mark of democratic principles to turn the back on the Comitium and speak towards the Forum. According to Cicero (Lael. 25, 96), C. Licinius Crassus (tribune B.C. 145) first began “in forum versus agere cum populo;” a practice of which Plutarch makes C. Gracchus the originator (C. Gracch. 5). Julius Caesar transferred the position of the Rostra to the western side of the Forum (Cic. Phil. 9.2; D. C. 43.49). A description of the Rostra will be found in Middleton, Rome, pp. 157-164, and in still greater detail in O. Richter's Gesch. der röm. Rednerbühne. It was reached by steps from the back, and was a rectangular platform, 78 feet long, 33 feet broad, and 11 feet above the pavement of the Forum, with end and side walls of tufa blocks; the upper floor was supported on travertine piers; along the front, facing the Forum, there were marble railings (cancelli), except in the centre, where the speaker stood (the marks of the railings being still apparent): in this central portion, which occupied one-fifth of the whole length, it is probable, as Richter thinks, that there was originally a lower stage, the locus inferior (see below), 5 1/2 feet beneath the level of the higher platform, or Rostra proper, and as many above the pavement of the Forum. At each end were colossal seated figures, as apparently was also the case in the older Rostra (cf. Cic. Phil. 9.2, 5). In the remains of the Rostra holes and metal pins may still be seen where the ships' beaks were fixed, 19 in the lower and 20 in the upper tier. A representation of the emperor speaking from the Rostra is given on the Arch of Constantine.
Rostra, from the Arc of Constantine. (Middleton's